The Abuse of Women in Politics #NameThem

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© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

As women in politics – particularly Conservative women – we have all experienced abuse in one form or another; be it online abuse with its ability to be anonymously trolled on a daily basis, or abuse we’ve encountered in person. For many of us, we were reminded of this unfortunate reality last weekend when the Prime Minister herself was the subject of violent rhetoric from her own MPs.

The moment is coming when the knife gets heated, stuck in her front and twisted. She’ll be dead soon”.
She should “bring her own noose” to the 1922 committee
She is facing “assassination” // “entering the killing zone

We’ve witnessed women across the political arena come to the defence of the Prime Minister. We saw the true meaning of ‘sisterhood’ from the responses of Nicola Sturgeon and Yvette Cooper.

It is deeds and not words that are needed now. The party should lead by example, and name the individuals who made such comments and take action against them. To protect our democracy, we have a duty to hold such individuals and organisations — particularly those in positions of influence — to account when they cross the line of basic human decency.

Language like this normalises a culture of being abusive and damages our democracy. While a number of MPs did speak out, it is upsetting to see limited condemnation of the violent rhetoric being used by those at the heart of the party and frustrating that still, nothing seems to have been done about it. It is not difficult to make a point against something or someone you disagree with, without being abusive, insulting or aggressive. Yet, it appears that many in politics still struggle to do so. Recent examples of this include the Leave.EU poster branding the Prime Minister as the ‘Enemy of Britain’. This does not create debate, it creates a defined target. We’ve seen in America this week with the bomb scares, that targeting someone as the enemy of the people can lead to targeted attacks.

Behaviour like this puts individuals — particularly women — off coming forward and standing for public office, or in getting involved with politics. The fact that also, there has been little to no punishment for those saying such hateful things, allows for a normalisation of this kind of language in, not only politics but society, and our democracy is worse off as a result. What we see online and what is quoted in newspapers can and does spill over into real life. Many of us have had to experience it.

What hope have we got, as female activists, if action is not taken when such behaviour occurs towards the Prime Minister?

Aine Lagan & Ellie Varley (Editor & Deputy Editor)

We’ve asked other female Conservatives to give us their thoughts on the events of last weekend:

“It’s shocking that in 2018, we are still seeing abhorrent language like this being used in public discourse. If an employee used that kind of language describing their colleague in a workplace, they would be identified and disciplined, perhaps even lose their job. I think the saddest thing about all this is some women considering politics will look at this and be deterred.”

  – Seena Shah, Conservative Young Women Co-Chair 

“It’s so important in daily public life that we’re careful about the language we use. Passion for political issues should not provoke poor behaviour from anyone, especially not those from the Prime Minister’s own party. Despite the horrific murder of Jo Cox, it still appears some members have not learnt. For the sake of democracy, healthy debate, and civil disagreements, this behaviour must change.”

– Sophie Warrener

“There’s a risk that people who are considering going into politics might see these things and be put off. It’s helping to create a really negative atmosphere in British politics and I hope things change soon. Theresa May receives so much hate and criticism but she remains strong and carries on. I admire her for that.”

– Charlotte Earl

“It’s just heart-breaking that I don’t know of a single female friend, active in politics, that hasn’t received some form of abuse. We should all be so proud of the progress we have made in achieving better representation, at the the same time it is an absolute tragedy that people still feel it’s okay to speak about powerful, passionate women this way. Whether they’re a new party member or the Prime Minister, we should not rest until everyone feels able to speak out and get involved without being subjected to vile misogyny or treated differently to their male counterparts.”

– Kirsty Lewis

“As a women who has stood for election for the Conservative party, I understand that I leave myself vulnerable for attack. I wouldn’t expect this to come from internal in the party. I know that our Prime Minister is a tough lady but why should she have to hear one of her own MP’s say that she should have to “bring her own noose” to a meeting with her own backbencher. The MP should have the Whip removed, so that this shows that this behaviour is unacceptable.”

Sheila Bodel, Conservative Candidate for East Belfast for AE17 and GE17

“I think the abuse Theresa May has received recently is exactly the sort of thing that keeps women out of politics, but the strong cross-party responses give me hope that things will start moving in the right direction.”

Jenna

“The comments made about the PM were in many ways shocking yet in many ways unsurprising. This harmful rhetoric has become more and more commonplace in our political discourse in recent years, yet until now it has often gone unchallenged. These comments were rightly condemned by all sides of the house, yet this was sadly not far enough. With the events of Jo Cox’s murder still fresh in our memories it is inconceivable that anyone could still speak like this, let alone have it published in a newspaper. The comments were not intended to stir up opposition to May on a political level but hatred on a personal one, and that’s why this kind of speech is so inherently dangerous.”

Lucy Williams

“Bring her own noose…The moment is coming when the knife gets heated, stuck in her front and twisted. She’ll be dead soon” Certainly passionate remarks from our mystery Tory MP. The fact that their name remains undisclosed and disputed says it all really. This type of language best suited in a bad, modernised version of some Shakespearean play – but said in a professional environment, to an MP, to our PM, I think that is disgusting.

May has not been given an easy job, she’s been given the job that I’m sure no one wants: to deliver a Brexit that pleases everyone. By virtue of this, many people are going to disagree with how she implements Brexit. That’s fine! But ‘throwing rotten tomatoes’, using violent language, is not the way to go about it.

I think we’re all somewhat guilty of forgetting about the humanity of people in politics, that are day by day presented as caricatures in the media, puppets to laugh at in a Punch and Judy performance. You might think that May’s Brexit negotiations have been laughable, but this is no excuse for violent and dehumanising language – especially from inside her own party.”

Grace Loughran

“Seeing the violent dehumanisation of Theresa May is yet another barrier for female participation in the democratic process. Conservative woman are already targeted by gender based campaigns from opposition parties, and to allow such violent and misogynistic attitudes to fester in our own party, we become no better than those who seek to target us.””

  – Helen,  Conservative Young Women Diversity Officer

“Elected politicians are supposed to represent us, they’re literally our voices in Parliament. So when those voices are used to engage violent language and sinister threats, they’re not only letting us down, it’s an indication of a much more worrying trend spreading across the country – desensitisation to such rhetoric -because its increased use has normalised it. That’s dangerous. As Margaret Thatcher once said: “watch your words for they become actions”.

With threats towards female MPs not only increasing in their degree of violence but also in volume, it’s not only up to our Male MPs to set the example for the whole country, but to act as the first defenders of their female counterparts. So when instead they’ve become the source of the threats, like last week, that’s unacceptable. This is not about infringing upon people’s freedom of speech. It’s about reminding them that language helps to create a general mood which can have very real consequences. Most recently in the tragic murder of Labour’s Jo Cox only two years ago. That was such a shock at the time, we assumed it changed everything. It didn’t. Angry and dangerous rhetoric has just gotten worse. Where’s the line? Where’s the limit? Where do we stop it and say ‘enough is enough’? I think it’s safe to say “bring your own noose” achieved the drawing of that line very firmly for a lot of people last week.

But what was to become the second punch in the one-two blow, was the total silence from female Conservative MPs. The SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon was first out of the gate with condemnation followed shortly after by Labour’s Yvette Cooper. But still nothing from our Tory women and frankly the silence was deafening. The Conservatives party doesn’t just have work to do in reminding their men where the limits are, we also have work to do within our female communities to remind us all how damaging it is when we show the country, and most importantly, prospective female members or even future MPs, that were not going to stand up and defend them against such behaviour.

This has to be addressed.

“All it takes for evil to prevail is for good men to be silent”

Well that goes for good women too. There’s no question that the party is still very much a male dominated one and whilst we don’t believe in all women shortlists or quotas to increase the numbers, the need to be better at supporting women’s issues has never been made more clear than our failure to respond to last week’s crisis. Denial that this is hindering the strengthening of our female base, and that we, Conservative women, are part of the problem, has to stop.”

– Tory Generation

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